Peer Learning and Exchange

Brief Description (including a definition if possible)

Peer learning and exchange is a method that combines learning by experiencing and learning with others. It requires bringing together peers (or individuals usually from different organizations) who work on similar issues and immersing themselves in a particular environment for several days to learn about other contexts, apply tools and skills, and in some cases, solve problems together. Peer exchange is normally done in groups, but certain variations such as peer coaching allow peers to learn in pairs.

Peer learning and exchange can be done in-person, online, or a combination of the two. This page focuses on face-to-face peer exchanges.

When to use
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Peer learning and exchange have many potential uses, all anchored on making people “learn” from other people who are in the same domain and/or with the same challenges and/or tasked to solve similar problems. This method can be used:
  • If you would like people to have a broader and different appreciation of an issue through exposure to a different context, and inspire them to think of better, innovative solutions and ways of doing things
  • If you want people to practice a skill related to applying a tool, method or technique in a safe environment with peers from different contexts who are also developing the same skills
  • If you want a group of people from different contexts to solve a particular problem for one organization.

How to use

There are different variations of the use of peer learning and exchange. What I will detail here is one employed by the ILO’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility where individuals from different organizations around the world are brought together to one host organization. The objective is normally for the visiting peers to learn about other contexts and apply their skills to solve a problem encountered by the host organization, and for the host to gather innovative recommendations in exchange for all the preparations needed.

The steps in this type of peer exchange are:
  1. Identify the group that needs the peer exchange. It is better if the group already exists, in the form for example of a community of practice, or in the case of Facility, a Practitioner Learning Group.
  2. Define the skill that needs to practiced or further developed by the participating peers, and the problem that the application of this skill can solve.
  3. Identify the host organization that can benefit from the peer exchange, with a problem that matches the one defined in step 2.
  4. Secure the agreement of the host organization, informing them of the requirements of hosting the peer exchange.
  5. Reserve 3-5 days for the peer exchange and plan the activities for each day together with the host.
    • Set aside a session to clarify objectives, activities, how the peer exchange will be carried out (will it be by groups or pairs assigned to specific questions, etc), the roles (if they are organized in groups, is there a facilitator, a documenter, etc), and the questions or problems that the peer exchange attempts to solve.
    • Plan out activities that will involve coordinating with external stakeholders, like interviews or focus group discussions with other staff members, beneficiaries, etc.
    • Insert sessions when participants can reflect and exchange on observations, insights, lessons, similarities and differences with their contexts, and possible applications of what they are learning to their own organizations. This can help break the intensity of the work and can facilitate learning.
    • End the peer exchange with a presentation of the assessment and recommendations to the host organization.
    • Note that all sessions need to be carefully designed with appropriate facilitation methods. One critical session to design is the reflection session as these are key to processing lessons learned in the exchange.
  6. Prepare all the important resources and materials that the participating peers need to study before coming to the peer exchange. Because 3-5 days is not enough to learn everything about the organization, pre-work is necessary for the peer exchange activities to work well.
  7. Communicate with the participants all the necessary information and arrangements (ideally at least two months before the peer exchange).
  8. Conduct the peer exchange according to the planned agenda.
  9. It is best to follow through on the peer exchange after about several months to a year to check on the status of the recommendations made during the peer exchange, and also to ask visiting peers what actions they have initiated in their organizations as a result of the peer exchange.
  10. Note that day 1 is best reserved to review the skills/tool that the participating organizations need to apply during the peer exchange. This will ensure that all participants have levelled off with the skill/tool needed.

Note that the preparations for a peer exchange takes on average about three to five months, due to the heavy preparations and communication particularly with the host organization.

Tips and Lessons Learnt

  • external image sajida%20peer%20exchange%20grp%20pic6.jpgTrust is an important element in peer learning and exchange. This includes trust among peers and trust between facilitators and peers. Trust among peers becomes higher the more frequently the peers have engaged each other in previous face to face activities. To build trust with facilitators, setting a safe environment that is open to sharing and is tolerant of mistakes is therefore important and can be done by clarifying the rules of engagement, employing relevant ice-breaking activities.
  • The objective of the peer exchange activity should be made clear right from the start, and should help participating organizations select the right person to attend (if selection is possible). The right choice of participants is important in maximizing learning and the results of the peer exchange.
  • For peer exchanges with a host, coordination and preparations by the host organization should not be underestimated, as the success of the peer exchange will depend on factors that are in the control of the host organization – for instance, whether the planned activities are executed properly, the information and resources needed (for focus group discussions for example) are available and accessible, and that all data gaps required to solve a problem can be filled.
  • A mix of face to face and online methods (such as private forums and webinars) can be used to sustain the activity of the peers. In sustained peer learning, face to face is quite important particularly in the beginning to build trust among peers who are just getting to know each other.
  • When language is a barrier, and meanings of words and terms differ due to cultural backgrounds, it is useful for the facilitator to catch this right away and devise a way to arrive at a common understanding, perhaps through the use of drawings and illustrations, storytelling, relationship diagrams etc.
  • There are a number of interactive methods that can be used by facilitators in designing peer learning sessions. See related methods/tools/resources below for more information.

Examples & Stories

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The ILO’s Microinsurance Innovation Facility has had two peer exchange activities following the format described above:
In 2013, we brought together PLG members in an exchange in Dhaka, Bangladesh to experience and suggest client value improvement work to a microfinance institution called Sajida Foundation. To learn more about this peer exchange, watch the video at: If you would like to know more about the technical aspects of the visit, you can go to:

external image OM%20peer%20exchange%20pic%204.jpgIn 2012, we brought together PLG members in an exchange in East London, South Africa to experience and suggest client value improvement work to a regulated insurance company called Old Mutual. To learn more about this peer exchange, read the article at: And if you would like to know more about the technical aspects of the visit, you can go to:

Who can tell me more?

Related Methods / Tools / Practices

In facilitating peer learning/exchange activities, a number of methods can be useful:

Resources (add your resources)

Keywords, Tags

  • Learning, Peer exchange, Peer learning

Photo or image credits

All photos are from the ILO's Microinsurance Innovation Facility.

Page Authors

Jasmin Suministrado ([email protected])